I have had a word on my heart for a few weeks now, however, I have not been able to pin point exactly what the Holy Spirit has wanted me to write. This is an attempt to write down what the Lord has spoken to me about. May the Holy Spirit enlighten you as He has enlightened me.
This year has already been a year of changes spiritually for me. During the first week of January Stephanie and I began listening exclusively to K-LOVE radio. Every time we are in the car going to and from work or any other event, we listen to Christian radio. While at home, we found ourselves listening to our Christian music or turning on K-LOVE radio and not watching as much television. This has had a profound influence on our lives. God has blessed Stephanie and I in so many unimaginable ways over the past couple of years. I praise God everyday for not only his precious gift of salvation, but also for the gift that is my wife, Stephanie. She has been the one to anchor me and keep me on track and to challenge me when I want to go astray spiritually.
Last year, we really stepped out in faith, and with the encouragement of Stephanie, we decided to be faithful and tithe, no matter what, ten percent of our income regularly. We decided that we would not compromise or miss an opportunity to tithe. You see, in the past we would tithe, but only when it was convenient for us, or when it was easy. It was easy to make excuses: “God would want us to use our tithe to pay such and such bill?” or “We will tithe extra next week or next month to make up for this month?” or “We only need to tithe when we attend Church.” However, we realized, that God had called us to be faithful with the little bit that He gave us. Through our faith, He would in turn bless us and place us in charge of greater things. Essentially, we decided to live out the parable of the loaned money in Matthew 25:14-30.
So last year we tithed ten percent, and of course when the bills get paid and there is leftovers to put into savings, it is easy to tithe. However, we were put to the test in the tough times. In the times where it seemed we would not make ends meet. In the times where there were no savings leftover. In the times where layoffs were increasing throughout the valley. It was in those times where it was tough to remain faithful; and we did. Our blessing from God came in the form of a renewed relationship with Him. We found a wonderful Church family at Lifeway Church. By placing God first in our lives, our marriage grew closer to the Lord. We were also blessed financially. Now, we did not become millionaires, but God made sure all of our bills were paid, there was a roof over our head, and we had food to eat. That was the greatest blessing of all. Because, we did not find ourselves worrying about the daily essentials, we were able to grow closer in our relationship as husband and wife and grow closer in our walk with the Lord (Matthew 6:9-15).
I only write of our experience, as a testimony of God’s commitment to us if we have faith as believers. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It is in the tough times where our faith is tested. James 1:2-4, encourages believers to have joy in the tough times, because it is through the tough times that our faith is tested and we develop endurance. This is faith endurance. It is easy to have faith and remain committed to the Lord when things go right and nothing goes wrong. It is when the times get tough where we need our faith the most. If we can weather the small storms of life, then by and through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord we will be able to survive the hurricanes!
So now we are in 2011. A new year with new challenges. As I mentioned we have been listening to more Christian radio this year. Well, during January K-LOVE offered a challenge. They challenged everyone to develop a single word that would describe what they wanted to work on or grow more in their walk with the Lord. I heard this challenge on the radio multiple times and people picked words like: faith, hope, trust, and salvation. I thought of 2010, and could describe that year for Stephanie and I as: faith. So this year I began to think about the challenge. I prayed and asked God to tell me what word he had for Stephanie and I this year. You see it is easy to look back and find a word to describe what has happened, but it is hard to pick a word to describe the future. So I came up with my word. Before I told anyone about it, I told Stephanie about the challenge and asked her if she had a word. She told me her word was guidance. This blew my mind. You see my word was: calling. As Stephanie and I began to talk we realized that we essentially had the same word. We have both been feeling that God is going to guide and call us this year into something great for Him. Now, I have to say, this is kind of overwhelming. The reason is because now we have to rely on faith. The future is unseen by us, so we have to trust God in where He is leading us; since He knows where we are headed.
This brings me to the title of this devotion: Line in the Sand. These past couple of weeks I have experienced my first spiritual challenges of the year. It is hard sometimes for me to express my weaknesses to others. I feel that it is important to let others know, because they may be going through the same spiritual challenges and need to be encouraged. To let them know that they are not alone in this spiritual struggle. Well, our church this year is planning a missions trip. When Stephanie and I found out we were extremely excited. We have been wanting to go on a missions trip for little while now. I was excited until I was told where the trip was going: Rocky Point, Mexico.
First, I want to say, my initial hesitation has nothing to do with the country or the people of Mexico. I have a great love for the culture of Mexico, and I have a special connection through my wife’s family to the people of Mexico. It all has to do with safety. For those who do not know, I am in law enforcement. Not only do I work in law enforcement but I work in the fifth largest city in the Unites States, Phoenix, and we are less than two hundred miles from the border with Mexico. Over the past couple of years, border violence has increased because of the drug war between drug cartels and with the Mexican government. Being in law enforcement, I am previewed to a lot of information about the violence. It is almost like being able to go behind the scenes of life and see how things really are. I have seen the disturbing images of the violence that occurs on the border and what has spilled over into Arizona. So it is with this knowledge, where I found my hesitation in doing a missions trip to Mexico. I was worried for the safety of myself, Stephanie and those who would be attending the trip.
I found myself trying to compromise with God. I would ask God, “God, I really want to serve you, but don’t you know how unsafe Mexico is right now?” and I would offer my own alternatives to God by saying, “God, there are plenty of other more safe missions trips. We can spend more money and go to Macedonia to spread the gospel.” I would continue to wrestle in my mind about the issue. I shared my concern with Stephanie, and would try to convince her that Mexico was just to unsafe for us. This was my weakness. This was my Jonah moment. I could either be a coward for Christ and runaway, or I could be like Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8) As I wrote earlier, it is hard for me to share this, because it is a vulnerability with myself, and it is embarrassing to admit. So this spiritual wrestle between me and God continued for just over a week. God is so patient with His children. He allows us to struggle with our own doubt and concern; until we finally surrender ourselves to Him and trust Him (2 Peter 3:9).
On February 17, 2011, the Holy Spirit convicted me. I was on the internet reading different news articles, when a youtube© video caught my attention. The title of the video was, “Radical Christianity is Normal” by Francis Chan (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLUWUg4nFR8). So I watched the video. It turns out this video was actually a sermon about the dangers of being a lukewarm Christian. Francis Chan quoted Matthew 7:21-23. Francis spoke about our reputations as Christians amongst our family, friends, and Church family. He posed this question, “If I were to interview those who know you best, family, friends, coworkers, and Church members; how would they describe your reputation?” Then he posed the question, “What if I could go to heaven right now and interview Jesus? What would Jesus say your reputation and character really are?” Francis then spoke about the Christians in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6), and how God described them as dead Christians. The church in Sardis had a reputation of being active and alive, but God knew they were spiritually dead. Essentially, they were Christians in name only. This struck me like a punch to the gut. The Holy Spirit then laid on my heart, “Aaron, you talk a good talk, but now you need to walk the talk and be a leader.”
I wish I could say that this was where I changed my heart. Instead I tried to use this as another excuse to convince Stephanie, and mostly myself, that another missions trip would be better for us. So I spoke with Stephanie. What is great, is that God has placed such a godly woman in my life. For every point that I had to try to convince Stephanie that a different missions trip was better, she had a counterpoint how it would not work out. We went back and forth. Finally, it struck me like a ton of bricks. God wants us to go to Mexico. I looked at Stephanie and told her that, and she said, “I know” and smiled, she already knew. I was reminded of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, and his willingness to endure the torture and hate when he was crucified on the cross for our sins (Luke 4:1-13; Isaiah 53:5-13). Jesus knows exactly how it feels to be tempted and to be persecuted. To fulfill the will of the Father, Jesus laid his life down for all of us (John 5:30). Jesus warned us that we would be persecuted because of Him and that we would have to endure the hate and persecution in this world (John 15:18-27). This brings me back to the point of faith endurance. I was reminded that it would be easy to go on a more safe trip or not go at all, but my faith would be tested in going to a place that may not be as safe. If Jesus could endure being tortured and crucified, then I too can endure the small pains and discomforts of life.
This brings me to the culmination. In Revelation 3:14-22, God has drawn a line in the sand. He told the Church in Laodicea that they were neither hot or cold, but lukewarm Christians (v. 15,16). I believe God was not only speaking to those early Christians but to all Christians. We need to pick which side we are on. Are we going to remain comfortable in the safety of our daily routines? Are we going to talk a good game? Are we just Christians in name only who are spiritually dead? Or, are we going to step out in faith and do what God has called all believers to do: fulfill the great commission (Mark 16:15)? We need to examine our hearts and determine if we are truly committed to Christ and willing to fulfill his will in our lives. As the old hymn states, “I surrender all.” We must surrender our minds, hearts, finances, families, lives and everything else to Christ and make him the Savior and Leader of our lives. We must surrender ALL. I do not know your heart, I can only speak for myself. I have described my weaknesses in this devotion and how the Holy Spirit has convicted me, as an encouragement to all who read this. If you are struggling with this issue I encourage you to read the Bible and pray. Seek guidance from the Holy Spirit in your decisions and then act on your calling. We must be willing, Jesus said all we have to do is ask, seek, and knock, and whatever we ask for will be given, whatever we seek we will find and wherever we knock it will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8). Jesus is at the door of our hearts and He is knocking (Revelation 3:20). Will you open the door of your heart and let Him in?
Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”